You get a sense of frontman Charlie Fink’s ambition early on, when his band reveal their idea of a “stripped-back set” involves Tom Hobden’s violin soaring over a string quartet in the midst of a rollicking "Tonight’s The Kind Of Night".
Welcome to a Month of Sundays, Noah And The Whale’s weekly residency at this chintzy West End venue to launch their fourth album, Heart Of Nowhere.
In his songwriting, Fink often looks forward or back, but now his bandmates also get a chance to take stock of how far they have come with two sets separated by the singer’s sweet art-project film that applies the record’s coming-of-age theme to a teen-friendly sci-fi fable. Before that, the London five-piece’s first appearance runs from intimate folk-pop to sweeping rock crescendos.
It is when the group return, though, that you get a sense of their latest stylistic shift.
Despite starting out on the same west London scene as Mumford and Sons (some via the same private schools), the Whale have moved on from the acoustic whimsy of their 2008 breakthrough. Tonight they revisit the relentless wallowing of The First Days Of Spring and sprite radio-friendly pop from Last Night On Earth, but the bulk of their main set is devoted to the smooth drive-time styles of its follow-up.
The Whale come across like a more polite, British take on Tom Petty’s polished drive-time rock, with chiming guitars, strong hooks and a vague romanticism. Their two longhairs, Matt Owens and Fred Abbott, even provide duelling guitars on "Still After All These Years", though they avoid long-winded instrumentals. Yes, they lay down rugs to play on like a hippy jam band, but their shoes gleam under the lights.
Fink attempts to rekindle an affair with an old flame on "One More Night", though without a seductive croon, his lines fail to convince. He also delivers sensible homilies to a younger self: “Try to get to know your parents,” he advises on "Now Is Exactly The Time".
Somehow he and the band make this sound life-affirming and vital. He acknowledges it is tough playing to a seated audience – “it feels like doing a Q&A,” he points out - but the audience whoop at the giddy sweep of an oddly string-less “Love Of An Orchestra” and are on their feet for an uplifting "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." At least live, Fink knows how to write a happy ending.